Katia Silvera Receives Funding from NSF

Katia Silvera

Katia Silvera

Photosynthesis supports the vast majority of life on Earth. For plants living under water-limited conditions, however, photosynthetic productivity can be reduced by hotter and drier climatic conditions. To counteract these conditions, some plants utilize forms of photosynthesis that increase the efficiency with which they use water. One such innovation seen in plants that grow in deserts or other water-limited habitats is Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM).

Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to work on a collaborative research project that will address fundamental questions about how plants use CAM and how genes involved in performing CAM are regulated in response to varying environmental conditions. The project will focus on the independent evolution of CAM in the orchid and agave plant families, both of which have species known for their ability to thrive in water-limited environments.

The four-year project, which will include the training of undergraduate and graduate students, will officially start Jan 2015. Silvera will collaborate with scientists at the University of Georgia, the University of Texas and the University of Buffalo on the project. Specifically, she will be in charge of conducting experiments to address how orchid species utilize CAM to improve water use under drought conditions.

“We want to understand how CAM evolves in this very large plant family and how it relates to the evolution of CAM in other species-rich plant families such as the Agavoideae,” she said. “These two groups contain many species with contrasting photosynthetic types and provide a good foundation to do comparative analysis. My role is to look at the evolution of CAM in orchids.”

The research is expected to provide a foundation for understanding the genetic basis of CAM pathways and potentially transfer to economically important plants for improved water use efficiency under drought conditions leading to improved productivity.

“We plan to integrate the results of the project into classroom learning and broader outreach activities,” Silvera said.

The total NSF funding for the project is $1.5 million. The amount budgeted for UCR is nearly $469,000.

In the U.S., agriculture accounts for approximately 80 percent of all consumptive water use. By 2050, agricultural water consumption worldwide is expected to increase by nearly 20 percent.

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